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feb 24 2009

Paris: Crêpes from street to chic

(Courtesy Kris Cohen/Flickr)

Walk down almost any Paris sidewalk and you're likely to be struck by the sweet smell of crêpes. Every city has its own street foods, and the favored snack in this town is a thin pancake stuffed with melted savories or sugary spreads.

Street crêpes are inexpensive, portable, and available at any hour, which makes them perfect for moments when you don't have time or money to spare. Native to the northwestern French region of Brittany, crêperies have proliferated around the country. Parisians flock to them at lunchtime for cheap combo deals like a drink and a galette (a savory crêpe made with buckwheat flour) for €5. Afternoon snackers stop by for their sweet fix: the crêpe au sucre (with sugar) or au citron (with lemon) are favored choices. Kids and Americans (that's me on both counts) go for the chocolate/hazelnut mess that is Nutella.

I still remember my first encounter with a street crêpe in Paris. After hours of flea market foraging at the Marché aux Puces, I headed to a vendor on the street. In the wintry outdoor air, that first crêpe arrived hot and oozing with salty cheese. I cupped my cold fingers around the steaming mass and nibbled it like a rare treasure, not realizing at the time that the delicious bundle was probably the worst crêpe I'd ever eat.

Even when they're soggy and filled with inferior ingredients, a bad street crêpe is still pretty good. But a great crêpe, as I've learned through years of extensively caloric research, can change your life. When I'm looking for a transformative pancake (and I often am), I head to the Crêperie Josselin (67 rue du Montparnasse, 14th arrondissement, 011-33/ 1-43-20-93-50). This sit-down restaurant is a dark and wood-filled, with lacy curtains and tiled walls. Your first sight upon entering will be an enormous slab of real Breton butter. The cook uses it on his griddle, giving the crêpes a golden color and a crisp, lacy edge. My regular lunch order (approaching fifty visits), is the complète: a galette that's stuffed with ham, egg and melted cheese. This glorifed egg McMuffin comes with a bowl of Breton cider and a dessert crêpe for only €10. Because it's served steaming on your table within minutes, it also qualifies as the best haute fast food in Paris.

For those who want a more modern take on the crêpe, the Breizh Café (109 rue Vieille du Temple, 3rd arrondissement, 011-33/1-42-72-13-77) is another wildly popular destination. Here, an impressive list of artisanal ciders and shellfish starters complement some very creative crêpe cookery. The ingredients at this Marais hotspot are all organic, and the light-wood interior is a departure from traditional Breton décor. The crêperie's location, just down the street from bars like La Perle (78 rue Vieille du Temple) make the Breizh a great place for a pre-crawl dinner with friends.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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